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When I heard that editorial and commercial photographer Jeffrey Thayer was heading to New York City for his first round of face-to-face meetings with editors and art buyers, I was eager to have him share the experience with RESOLVE. The NYC pilgrimage is an important (often nerve-wracking) right of passage for many photographers. Through Jeff’s eyes — with posts on preparing for the trip, the meetings, and the follow-ups — photographers planning a similar trip can get a peak inside the process.
©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

My name is Jeffrey Thayer and I am a photographer. I am early in my career, but I have been using the camera as a medium for expression as long as I can remember. I can’t paint or maybe I’d be a painter.

At the moment I am trying to push my career up a notch. I have great clients, from boutique designers to smaller editorial, but I want more. I want the clients with huge visions that are a challenge to create and who want to make them with me. I want clients that embody the laughter in life and fun lifestyle that I enjoy.

So how does one go from being an assist to a photog? That was the question I asked myself — and to be honest, I needed some help. I have worked with a lot of great photographers in the Los Angeles area, as well as some of the ones who came to town for shoots. I have shot pre-production stuff for one of today’s most in-demand photographers … and all of this means nothing in the end.

So I started asking these guys and gals I work with what I should do to move forward. I also started attending every possible APA event on these topics. I went to portfolio reviews and was told I seemed to have multiple personality problems. I narrowed my vision and started to do some e-mail blasts, which got a good reception, and then did a postcard.

But budgets are tight due to this awesome economic climate, and I still wasn’t getting the calls I wanted. So I hired Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua at Burns Auto Parts, who told me I was using too much of a “shotgun” marketing technique. I was sending things to people who probably wouldn’t hire me and I probably wouldn’t want to shoot for. What I needed to be was a self-promotion sniper. So Leslie helped me fine-tune my contact list and market only to the clients who use images like mine and the companies/magazines I want. We also trimmed a couple more images out of portfolio.

“Get in front of them and sell your personality, your images — do whatever you have to.”

More »

When Joe McNally, a legendary photojournalist and lighting guru, stopped by the liveBooks office during some rare down time in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist setting up a video interview. (Thanks to videographer Drew Gurian.) Joe has contributed to National Geographic for 20 years and was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine. He works with huge commercial clients and produced a seminal portrait series of September 11 heroes. He’s also the author of two must-read instructional books and writes a very popular blog — which brings us to the video below.

Joe started his blog in 2008 after prodding from friends (and avid bloggers) including Moose Peterson, David Hobby, and Scott Kelby. Now the blog is an important part of his business, especially since “big pipelines” for assignments have dried up in recent years.

“Any photographer out there now is stitching together things,” he says. “Work comes now in all sorts of strange ways.” Smart photographers like Joe understand that blogs and social media are an important part of that patchwork. They bring in assignments, create buzz, and help build community with other top professionals. (If you haven’t seen Joe’s parody of Chase Jarvis’ Consequences of Creativity video, I recommend you watch that too.)

Marc Asnin, an experienced editorial photographer, had the idea a couple years ago to help photographers get their work in front of the many NYC editors in his Rolodex. He’s revamped the idea this year as the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review and has signed up editors from big publications like ESPN, Vanity Fair, Fortune, New York Magazine, Time, and Real Simple. (The original Aug. 1 deadline has been extended, and applications are still being accepted.) Marc and I talked about what makes this review different, as well as what advice he has for photographers when they meet with top editors.
Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building overlooking Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building that overlooks Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Miki Johnson: How many editors would a participant in the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review potentially get to see?

Marc Asnin: You’ll see 14 if you sign up for two sessions. Our thing right now is that it’s an incredible list of editorial people. Last time we had one of these sessions, most of the people came from out of town, which I thought was very interesting. I think they realized that if you’re paying $399 and you’re getting to meet with seven editors — you can’t FedEx your portfolio for that. And how many people are going to look at your portfolio online? Does it get through the spam filter? All the editors are really into it. It’s refreshing to see that you can get 50 editors to participate. Even in this difficult time, they still want to see new work.

This year, meetings are during the day and into the evening. So let’s say you come in the morning and you have three sessions out of your seven, you’ll be able to hang out. So maybe you only got seven minutes with someone from Vanity Fair, but then you could also talk to them during the intermission. We will also have a wrap party so that the participants can all get to know each other. It’s good to hang out with your peers, too. When I taught at SVA, I always told the students, you can learn much more from each other than you can ever learn from me; you’re the same age, you’re in the same world.

One thing we did last time and we’re doing again is making sure that there’s a certain quality of photography we’re showing. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be Annie Leibowitz. But we wouldn’t ask photo editors to give their time to look at work that’s not on a professional level.

We’re also not pigeon-holing people. So if you’re a reportage photographer, that doesn’t mean you can’t see Vanity Fair. That’s an important thing for photographers to understand. For instance, I’ve worked with Bruce Perez at Redbook. If you don’t understand the magazine world, you might wonder, what would Marc ever do for a woman’s magazine? Well, I did a story on breast cancer and another on a boy with brain caner. So you can get interesting reportage work at a woman’s magazine. I used to work a lot for Good Housekeeping and did some other incredible stories there.

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

MJ: What tips do you give photographers about their meetings with editors? More »

Many photojournalists love the idea of working with NGOs since it lines up well with their philosophy and style of image making. The reality, however, is that most NGOs have an unsophisticated understanding of visual storytelling and are used to getting photos for free. With that in mind, Chris Tyree and Stephen Katz, along with a crack team including other former staffers, founded Wéyo, a visual consulting firm and content producer for nonprofits. I knew the potential impact of inventive image collaboration from talking with Valenda Campbell, CARE’s senior photo editor, and Najlah Hicks, the founder of Do1Thing.
An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

Chris Tyree

In the beginning, Wéyo co-founder Stephen Katz and I started talking about how we could turn our photojournalistic skills and passion for working with nonprofits into a full-time career. We researched the nonprofit sector, talked to numerous organizations, and started to assemble like-minded journalists from a variety of disciplines (photography, film, writing, editing, designing), as well as marketing specialists.

Our goal has been to build a team that produces award-winning stories about nonprofits and then uses (markets) them in a way that can make a difference. Sometimes that is through designing websites and blogs around the content and sometimes it is crafting unique marketing projects utilizing our narrative-based material. Our fundamental principle is that, for people to act they must truly believe, and that comes from showing/telling them in compelling ways what it is exactly that our clients are doing to make this world a better place.

Starting a business in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression may seem like a crazy move, and maybe we are a bit crazy, but it also presents a lot of opportunities. Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls. We’ve grown (slowly) without taking loans or reaching too deeply into our personal finances, in part by appealing to nonprofits that we’d worked with when we were on staff at daily newspapers. Until now we’ve existed almost entirely by word of mouth, but we are currently in the early stages of a larger marketing campaign. So, we are growing at a comfortable pace,getting calls on a national level daily,but are ready for a larger role as organizations realize the potential we can tap into through our compelling work.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

We decided on a model for the business that brings together different disciplines in large part after looking at thousands of nonrprofit websites — we realized 90% or more have a hard time telling people what they actually do with the donations they receive. The images on these sites are often of smiling kids, if there are images at all, and the videos and words leave people more confused. Our group understands the importance of showing and telling the story. It has been an amazing experience working with all these talented individuals, whose hearts are as big as their ideas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, much of what we do is in the virtual office online, but when those kind of talented people collaborate for a great cause, there is an excitement and creative buzz that is unmatched.

There are two main concerns working in this sector. First, these organizations have generally relied on donated content. And now everybody with a digital camera considers themselves a photographer, so and there is a ton of really awful, but free, imagery available. Most of the nonprofits we’ve worked with realize the power of strong documentary photography, but can’t come to grips with paying for it — even though these same groups will pay a decent amount of money to an PR agency or consulting group to utilize the donated images. There is only so much they can do with bad photography and most of these agencies really have no concept in how to use strong documentary material.

Second, you really aren’t your own boss. I don’t think any of us imagined at the start how long it would take to get a project started. In the newspaper business, you get an assignment, an hour later you’re shooting it, a few hours later you’re editing it, and a few hours after that it is in print and sitting on your doorstep. Not so in this new world. We have proposal meetings, then contract reviews, then board approvals, lawyer approvals … then perhaps you get the chance to work. Wéyo has proposals out that are over a year old and still in contract review, awaiting board approval. So, you have to have a lot of patience and take solace in the knowledge that what you are doing has the potential to change many lives for the better.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Have you been frustrated working with NGOs? Have you found any that have a more sophisticated understanding of visual storytellling?

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.


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